In 1976, officials from Fort Bliss approached Ski Apache about teaching returning disabled Vietnam veterans to ski. Military doctors believed that if these men could participate in a sport, particularly one they enjoyed before the war, it would make a difference in their rehabilitation. Diana Person, a ski instructor, was the first volunteer, and with Ski Apache management’s approval and encouragement, a separate ski school was established – the Ski Apache Adaptive Sports or SAAS.
The Program’s goal was to teach any person with a disability to ski. The area management offered to supply a small building and reduced or complimentary lift tickets for students, instructors, and volunteers. That first year, Diana taught seven students (including three Vietnam veterans), and the program was off and running.
In 1977-1978, Sierra Blanca Ski Area had a ski program for the local school kids. The local ski shops rented equipment, and the area offered tickets; all at reduced prices. Our program needed volunteers to work with our kids. The people from the surrounding area met that need.
That same season, Hank Yabaro from Sierra Blanca Ski School organized the first silent auction. That has been the program’s main fundraising event! By the mid 1980’s, Diana had about 100 volunteers and Bobby Palm, who was Diana's only employee. There was no charge for anybody to use the program, and we happily accepted donations.
Diana was good friends with Hal O'Leary (who ran the Winter Park program). They stayed in touch and traded ideas; together they were pioneers of "what works." By the late 1980’s, we started using a walker with skis and a sit ski, which was not much more than a flying bathtub with a "coach" attached to it. That opened up a whole new possibility for people to experience sliding down a hill on the snow.
Previously we stopped the lift, and it took two or more people to carry someone. Walkers now make it easier on everyone because of the support. It loads and unloads the chairs on the fly, giving us more time skiing and less time fumbling around.